Friday, October 15, 2010

Why I love peanut butter

What do peanut butter, a lightbulb, a big eraser, and my brain have in common? Nothing until this week, when they were all involved in my discovery of why our electric bill was three times as high as it should have been.

Let me begin by admitting that we forgot to sign up for our electricity account when we moved in here in May. It was odd that we never got a bill in the mail, but we thought maybe it was included in rent. I figured if we woke up one morning and the lights didn't turn on, then we had done something wrong. Well the lights always worked, but eventually we got an email from our landlord telling us to sign up. After paying the electric company an outrageous fee for "turning on our electricity" (which has clearly been on since may), we also got a bill for August. It was large.
I am by no means an expert on circuits or voltage, but I can do fractions, and at my last apartment in Omaha we paid approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of this amount monthly. That apartment was twice as big, had twice as many people, and old beasts of appliances. Furthermore, I seem to remember spending most of the winter in bed with my neuro notes because it was too cold by the window to get out. Already worked up about the turn-on fee, I spent the next several days complaining and trying to figure out what we could possibly be spending all these kilowatt-hours on.

Obviously a poll of classmates was in order. Regardless of apartment size, type, or location, everyone paid about $20-30 dollars a month. Jon was convinced we were paying to air condition the apartment hallways. I called my landlord. She didn't know any averages for what other people in the building paid.

I called OPPD (the electric company, inventor of exhorbitant fees). OPPD woman told me she was unable to answer any specific questions I had, because the account was under "a Jonathan." After failing to convince her that Jonathan was my husband, I proceeded to ask specific questions and let her answer however she thought appropriate.

I explained my concerns and validated them with my survey results, but OPPD woman pointed out to me in haven't-graduated-from-college terms that my research was not scientifically sound because I didn't control the variables. I don't live in the same building as my classmates with the same appliances, same square footage, same habits, or at the same temperature. I told her that we live in about 600 square feet on the shady side of newly remodeled brick building with brand new windows, energy star appliances, and only run AC at night, probably around 75 degrees. It takes about 2 minutes of running the air to cool the whole place down. Nobody's home during the day so everything's off. And if all those variables really mattered, why was everyone's bill within a $10 range while Jon and I were several standard deviations above? At this point, all I wanted OPPD woman to say was yes, something seemed wrong. Instead, she told me that her records showed the last tenant paying very close to the same amount last August. (Interesting, she must have had the thermostat at the exact level we do and also used appliances, turned on and off lights, and done laundry exactly as much as we do.) She told me if we wanted to test the meter we could turn off all our breakers and then see if it was still spinning. Conversation over.

Fast forward several days. We paid the bill. I continued to complain. One day, I had my head in the refrigerator and saw a shiny wire coming down from the ceiling inside.

My stream of thought went like this:
  1. What is that?
  2. Oh that must be a temperature sensor.
  3. Automatically touch it.
  4. Notice that the fridge lightbulb is hot next to my hand.
  5. What idiot desinged this appliance and chose to put the temperature sensor 1 inch away from the hot lightbulb?
  6. Why is a lightbulb kept in the fridge hot?
  7. It must not be turning off when the door shuts
Have you ever tried to check if the light is off when the door is shut? I was convinced that the light was staying on.
  1. Why isn't the light turning off?
  2. When I push that flipper, the light turns off.
  3. What part of the door is hitting the flipper to turn it off?
  4. Apply peanut butter to flipper and close door to see where it leaves a mark
  5. No mark
  6. Apply thicker layer of peanut butter
  7. No mark
  8. There was only one part of the door which seemed like it should be responsible for hitting the flipper
  9. Apply peanut butter to guilty-looking door part
  10. No mark
  11. Apply large glob of peanut butter to door part
  12. Peanut butter everywhere
  13. Tape a big eraser to that part of the door
  14. Close the door and watch the light turn off with a centimeter left to close
I began to get even MORE excited when I thought of how all our produce kept freezing in the fridge, even though we had been progressively turning the temperature knob warmer and warmer. Also, milk went bad if you kept it at the back of the top shelf. The light bulb was warming the top shelf, the temperature sensor thought it was 200 degrees in the fridge, and the compensatory overblast was freezing the produce. And that's why our electric bill was wrong! When Jon came home I was very proud to explain to him my investigation of the afternoon. He of course tried to skip ahead in the story as if he himself had solved the problem. I made him promise not to tell his Dad so that I can look smart at Thanksgiving.


  1. This is hilarious. I am glad you figured it out, though. Often our electric bills were around $70 for our large Hudson Road house, depending on the season, so that is definitely a lot for an apartment. I hope it will save on your grocery bill as well :).
    A side note, isn't it annoying when you aren't allowed to do things because it's in your husband's name? Like I told the student loan company I was moving to a new address, but Nate had to call again and tell them that he too was moving. Nate was not happy about this.

  2. Anonymous12:26 am

    Oh my goodness. I miss living with you. So hilarious. You would. And yes, SUPER annoying when you can't do anything because it's in his name. I.e., they allowed me to charge something over the phone to our credit card, but then when I wanted to end the identity protection coverage they wouldn't LET ME because they said that the "cardholder", which is Greg had been the one to authorize it! I was so angry - they had no problem TAKING my money, but to stop taking it they had to speak to Greg. Grrr.


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